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Where is our historian to give us our side? To teach our people our own history?” asks Afro-Puerto Rican Arturo Schomburg on the first page of this beautifully illustrated picture book. Schomburg’s 5th-grade teacher had told him “Africa’s sons and daughters had no history, no heroes worth noting.”

Schomburg dedicated his life to ensuring that future generations would learn of Africa and African Americans’ powerful heritage. He set out to write, research, and collect the stories that chronicled the Black history of the Diaspora. Filling every nook and cranny of his family home in Harlem, his collection was eventually donated to the now famous Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in New York.

ISBN: 9780763680466 | Published by Candlewick Press (MA).

Crossing Ebenezer Creek is an extraordinary book of historical fiction about the December 9, 1864 Massacre at Ebenezer Creek, where, on the march to Savannah, thousands of African American families who had just escaped from slavery were left to drown by Sherman’s Army.

The protagonist is a young girl, Mariah, who flees slavery to join Sherman’s March. She escapes along with her younger brother and a woman who is mentally ill as a result of traumas on the plantation. Mariah recounts the daily and many forms of torture carried out by plantation owners.

Readers also learn how the enslaved resisted, protecting culture and family in any and every way they could.

In the epilogue, author Tonya Bolden explains that demands by Black ministers after the massacre led to the short-lived land distribution during Reconstruction known as Sherman’s Special Field Order No. 15.

ISBN: 9781599903194 | Published by Bloomsbury.


Ebenezer Massacre historic plaque

Georgia Historical Society marker. Click to read more.


Charles Sumner

Charles Sumner. Photo by Mathew Brady – Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division. Brady-Handy Photograph Collection.

“From the beginning of our history the country has been afflicted with compromise. It is by compromise that human rights have been abandoned.” — Senator Charles Sumner

Charles Sumner (Jan. 6, 1811 – Mar. 11, 1874) was a U.S. senator from Massachusetts. He was also a lawyer, powerful orator, leader of the anti-slavery forces in Massachusetts, and a leader of the Radical Republicans. He advocated for full recognition of Haiti, against the U.S.-Mexico War, for true Reconstruction with land distribution, against school segregation, and more.

On May 22, 1856, a couple of days after Charles Sumner gave his famous anti-slavery speech, “Crime Against Kansas,” he was beaten so badly in the Senate chambers that he could not return to office for three years.

George William Curtis recounted in his eulogy for Sumner on June 9, 1874 in the Boston Music Hall, that

When I argued with him [Charles Sumner] that opponents might be sincere, he thundered reply, “Upon such a question, there is no other side.”


Related Resources

Sarah’s Long Walk: The Free Blacks of Boston and How Their Struggle for Equality Changed America: On February 15, 1848, Benjamin Roberts filed the first school desegregation suit after his daughter Sarah was barred from a white school in Boston, Mass. The plaintiff’s attorneys were Charles Sumner and Robert Morris, one of the country’s first African-American lawyers. This was the first trial case about school segregation and indirectly related to the 1855 ban of segregated schools in all of the state of Massachusetts and the 1954 ban on segregated schools nationally.


Last Seen is an archive of thousands of “Information Wanted” advertisements taken out by people freed from slavery who are searching for family members. Their families were separated by the cruel and criminal institution of slavery which tore generations of families apart for close to three centuries.

The ads taken out in Black newspapers mention family members, often by name, and also by physical description, last seen locations, and at times by the name of a former slave master.

The archive, maintained by graduate students at Villanova University, can be a powerful tool in the classroom to tell stories of forced separation and survival during slavery, emancipation, and Civil War.

A few examples:


In the 19th and 20th centuries, Blacks were robbed of their land across the United States through a variety of techniques. Here are three resources to teach about this chapter of U.S. history and how it relates to wealth inequality today.

In his 2007 documentary Banished, filmmaker Marco Williams examined four examples of primarily white communities violently rising up to force their African-American neighbors to flee town.

In 2001, results from an 18-month investigation of Black land loss in America were published by The Associated Press. It turned up 107 of these land takings, 57 of which were violent, the other cases involved trickery and legal manipulations. Here are eight of these heartbreaking stories. [Atlanta Blackstar]

In a picture book that highlights rarely discussed intersections between Native Americans in the South and African Americans in bondage, a noted Choctaw storyteller and Cherokee artist join forces with stirring results. Set before the Civil War and the Trail of Tears, and told in the lulling rhythms of oral history, Crossing Bok Chitto opens with a Mississippi Choctaw girl who strays across the Bok Chitto River into the world of Southern plantations, where she befriends a boy who is enslaved and his family.

When trouble comes, the desperate runaways flee to freedom, helped by their own fierce desire (which renders them invisible to their pursuers) and by the Choctaws’ secret route across the river. In her first paintings for a picture book, Bridges conveys the humanity and resilience of both peoples in forceful acrylics, frequently centering on dignified figures standing erect before moody landscapes. [Description from Booklist review.]

ISBN: 9781933693200 | Published by Cinco Puntos Press

The Fog Machine is historical fiction set against the backdrop of the Civil Rights Movement, from 1954 to 1964, through the eyes of a young Black woman who’s left Mississippi for Chicago, a 12-year-old white girl, and a Chicago law student and Jewish Freedom Summer volunteer from New York City. Their lives collide as each person questions what freedom means and the price they’ll pay to have it.

Learn more about the book at the website of author Susan Follett.

ISBN: 9781941038505 | Published by Lucky Sky Press


“Insightful and highly readable. Written with sensitivity and insight about the nature of prejudice. The Fog Machine will resonate with teens and older readers alike.” —John Dittmer, author, Local People: The Struggle for Civil Rights in Mississippi

“Captures essential, often overlooked elements of the Freedom Schools: teachers encouraged to improvise in response to their students and African Americans courageously offering hospitality to young whites from the North. Bravo!”
—Staughton Lynd, Freedom School Coordinator, MS Freedom Summer

“Your fictional Freedom Summer students and teachers GOT IT. Thank you for remembering my brother. Great book! Great job!”
—Ben Chaney, James Earl Chaney Foundation founder

“Follett’s ear has perfect pitch in capturing the ingrained attitudes, nuanced feelings, and voices of hope at the 1964 Meridian Freedom School. Children naturally play together; it’s the grownups who teach them to hate and fear. The more we reveal how that happens, the more we can be hopeful about changing it.”
—Mark Levy, coordinator, 1964 Meridian Freedom School

Beaches, Blood, and Ballots is Dr. Gilbert R. Mason’s eyewitness account of harrowing episodes that occurred on the Gulf Coast of Mississippi during the civil rights movement. Newly opened by court order, documents from the Mississippi Sovereignty Commission’s secret files enhance this riveting memoir written by a major civil rights figure in Mississippi. He joined his friends and allies Aaron Henry and the martyred Medgar Evers to combat injustices in one of the nation’s most notorious bastions of segregation.

In Mississippi, the civil rights struggle began in May 1959 with “wade-ins.” In open and conscious defiance of segregation laws, Mason led nine black Biloxians onto a restricted spot along the twenty-six-mile beach. A year later more wade-ins on beaches reserved for whites set off the bloodiest race riot in the state’s history and led the U.S. Justice Department to initiate the first-ever federal court challenge of Mississippi’s segregationist laws and practices. Simultaneously, Mason and local activists began their work on the state’s first school desegregation suit. As the coordinator of the strategy, he faced threats to his life.

Mason’s memoir gives readers a documented journey through the daily humiliations that segregation and racism imposed upon the black populace — upon fathers, mothers, children, laborers, and professionals.

Dr. Gilbert Mason, shown here being escorted by police to a Biloxi, Mississippi courthouse, led the black community in a series of “wade-in” protests to desegregate Biloxi’s twenty-six-mile-long shoreline. (AP Images)

Born in 1928 in Jackson, Mason acknowledges the impact of his strong extended family and of the supportive system of institutions in the black neighborhood. They nurtured him to manhood and helped fulfill his dream of becoming a physician.

His story recalls the great migration of blacks to the North, of family members who remained in Mississippi, of family ties in Chicago and other northern cities. Following graduation from Tennessee State and Howard University Medical College, he set up his practice in the black section of Biloxi in 1955 and experienced the restrictions that even a black physician suffered in the segregated South. Four years later, he began his battle to dismantle the Jim Crow system. This is the story of his struggle and hard-won victory. [Publisher’s description]

Learn more about this Civil Rights Watershed in Biloxi.

ISBN: 9781934110287 | Published by University Press of Mississippi

An up-close study of a pinnacle moment in the struggle and of those who fought for change.

Once in a great while, a photograph captures the essence of an era: Three people–one black and two white–demonstrate for equality at a lunch counter while cigarette-smoking hotshots pour catsup, sugar, and other condiments on the protesters’ heads and down their backs. The image strikes a chord for all who lived through those turbulent times of a changing America.

The photograph, which plays a central role in the book’s perspectives from frontline participants, caught a moment when the raw virulence of racism crashed against the defiance of visionaries. It now shows up regularly in books, magazines, videos, and museums that endeavor to explain America’s largely nonviolent civil rights battles of the late 1950s and early 1960s. Yet for all of the photograph’s celebrated qualities, the people in it and the events they inspired have only been sketched in civil rights histories. It is not well known, for instance, that it was this event that sparked to life the civil rights movement in Jackson, Mississippi, in 1963. Sadly, this same sit-in and the protest events it inspired led to the assassination of Medgar Evers, who was leading the charge in Jackson for the NAACP.

We Shall Not Be Moved puts the Jackson Woolworth’s sit-in into historical context. Part multifaceted biography, part well-researched history, this gripping narrative explores the hearts and minds of those participating in this harrowing sit-in experience. It was a demonstration without precedent in Mississippi–one that set the stage for much that would follow in the changing dynamics of the state’s racial politics, particularly in its capital city.

M. J. O’Brien, Vienna, Virginia, is a writer and researcher who served for twenty-five years as the chief communications and public relations officer for a national not-for-profit cooperative. He serves on the board of Teaching for Change.

ISBN: 9781628460353 | Published by University Press of Mississippi

Based on her father’s experience in 1960s North Carolina, Pamela Tuck tells how a family and community challenge racism where they work, shop, and go to school.

The protagonist, 14-year-old Mason, is the letter writer for the local African American civil rights committee. In appreciation, they give him a typewriter. His typing skills help him open doors when he attends the formerly all-white high school. There is no sugarcoating of the racism Mason faces. In fact, when he wins a county typing competition, not one audience member applauds. Instead, Mason finds love, admiration, and strength from his family and community.

As Fast As Words Could Fly could be used to introduce the history beyond the big demonstrations about the fight for civil rights. It would lend itself well to a group read and discussion, and could also be a wonderful source of prompts for writing from the perspective of different characters. For grade 3 and above.

ISBN: 9781600603488 | Published by Children’s Book Press (CA)

In a magisterial work of narrative nonfiction that weaves together the racially fraught history of public education in Milwaukee and the broader story of hypersegregation in the rust belt, Lessons from the Heartland tells of an iconic city’s fall from grace—and of its chance for redemption in the twenty-first century.

A symbol of middle American working-class values and pride, Wisconsin—and in particular urban Milwaukee—has been at the forefront of a half-century of public education experiments, from desegregation and “school choice,” to vouchers and charter schools. Picking up where J. Anthony Lukas’s Pulitzer Prize–winning Common Ground left off, Lessons from the Heartland offers a sweeping narrative portrait of an all-American city at the epicenter of American public education reform, and an exploration of larger issues of race and class in our democracy. Miner (whose daughters went through the Milwaukee public school system and who is a former Milwaukee Journal reporter) brings a journalist’s eye and a parent’s heart to exploring the intricate ways that jobs, housing, and schools intersect, underscoring the intrinsic link between the future of public schools and the dreams and hopes of democracy in a multicultural society. [Publisher’s description.]

ISBN: 9781595588296 | Published by New Press

In Daybreak of Freedom, Stewart Burns presents a documentary history of the boycott. Using an array of more than one hundred original documents, he crafts a comprehensive account of this celebrated year-long protest of racial segregation.

Daybreak of Freedom reverberates with the voices of those closest to the bus boycott, ranging from Martin Luther King and his inner circle, to Jo Ann Robinson and other women leaders who started the protest, to the maids, cooks, and other ‘foot soldiers’ who carried out the struggle.

ISBN: 9780807846612 | Published by University of North Carolina Press


“A skillfully edited, handsomely designed volume that will be proven useful to anyone interested in the civil rights movement.”–Journal of Southern History

“Scholars who are striving to broaden the context and deepen our understanding of the civil rights movement will appreciate the multiple perspectives in Daybreak of Freedom. . . . [It] is a treasure trove of possibilities for any teacher who uses primary sources, whether in a high school survey or a graduate seminar. Not only are the documents compelling and well organized, but Burns’s editorial explanations are clear and helpful.”–Journal of American History

The 1963 Birmingham Children’s March was a turning point in U.S. history. In the streets of Birmingham, Alabama, the fight for civil rights lay in the hands of children like Audrey Hendricks, Wash Booker, James Stewart, and Arnetta Streeter.

Through the eyes of these four protesters and others who participated, We’ve Got a Job tells the little-known story of the 4,000 black elementary, middle, and high school students who voluntarily went to jail between May 2 and May 11, 1963. The children succeeded—where adults had failed—in desegregating one of the most racially violent cities in America.

By combining in-depth, one-on-one interviews and extensive research, author Cynthia Levinson recreates the events of the Birmingham Children’s March from a new and very personal perspective.

ISBN:9781561456277 | Published by Peachtree Publishers

The 40 Years Later: Now Can We Talk? DVD and discussion guide offer a powerful way to engage students, teachers, and community groups in honest dialogue about the ongoing problems of racism and what we can do to address them. The film tells the story of the first African Americans to integrate the white high school in Batesville, Mississippi in 1967–69. A provocative and moving conversation emerges from separate discussions with African American alumni, white alumni, and a third dialogue that brings the two groups face-to-face.

The 45-minute DVD and discussion guide can be used to fruitfully explore several issues and related themes, including the impact of desegregation on both students of color and white students, racial bullying, the impact on victims, the responsibility of bystanders, and the role adults play in perpetuating or interrupting racial microaggressions that negatively impact students of color. [Publisher’s description.]

Produced by Lee Anne Bell. Directed by Markie Hancock. Teachers College Press, 2013.




40 Years Later: Now Can We Talk? is a moving and powerful documentary that uses storytelling to expose as well as heal the racial divide in American society. The stories prompt examination of critical questions that can assist both students and educators in a variety of settings not only to reflect on past injustices, but also to confront the present context of increasing racial segregation and inequality. Lee Anne Bell has produced an inspiring experience. —Jacqueline Jordan Irvine, professor emerita, Emory University

A stunning film about yesterday, and unfortunately today; about the sacrifices of the first generation, and the always unfulfilled promise of integration. This film serves as a window on American educational history, from racialized bodies to the national body politic. 40 Years Later demands, indeed, that now we must talk.  Producer Lee Bell is not only a brilliant educator and writer, but she has found a new medium for her message, and her call for action. —Michelle Fine, Distinguished Professor of Social Psychology, Women’s Studies, and Urban Education, the Graduate Center, CUNY

Freedom Summer in 1964 Mississippi brings both peaceful protest and violence into the lives of two young people in Revolution.

Twelve-year-old Sunny, who’s white, cannot accept her new stepmother and stepsiblings. African American Raymond is impatient for integration to open the town’s pool, movie theater and baseball field. When trained volunteers for the Council of Federated Organizations—an amalgam of civil rights groups—flood the town to register black voters and establish schools, their work is met with suspicion and bigotry by whites and fear and welcome by blacks. Wiles blends a coming-of-age story with pulsating documentary history. Excerpts from contemporary newspapers, leaflets and brochures brutally expose Ku Klux Klan hatred and detail Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee instructions on how to react to arrest while on a picket line. Song lyrics from the Beatles, Motown and spirituals provide a cultural context. Copious photographs and subnarratives encapsulate a very wide range of contemporary people and events. But it is Sunny and, more briefly, Raymond who anchor the story as their separate and unequal lives cross paths again and again and culminate in a horrific drive-by shooting. A stepmother to embrace and equal rights are the prizes—even as the conflict in Vietnam escalates. [Kirkus Review]

ISBN: 9780545106078 | Published by Scholastic, Inc.


Patricia Stephens Due fought for justice during the height of the Civil Rights era. Her daughter, Tananarive, grew up deeply enmeshed in the values of a family committed to making right whatever they saw as wrong. Together, in alternating chapters, they have written Freedom in the Family, a paean to the movement—its hardships, its nameless foot soldiers, and its achievements—and an incisive examination of the future of justice in this country. Their mother-daughter journey spanning two generations of struggles is an unforgettable story. [Publisher’s description.]

Watch a discussion of the book by the authors on C-Span Book TV in 2003.

“Affecting… This is a must-read for those who want to know how movement is made and sustained.” — Julian Bond, chairman, NAACP

“Readers will most likely be charmed and educated by these two dedicated, candid, brilliant women.”— Kirkus Reviews

“What’s most revealing about Freedom in the Family is that it underscores the fact that for blacks in America, the struggles of the past are definitely not past.” — Nathan McCall, author of Makes Me Wanna Holler

“The Civil Rights Movement was more than court cases, legislation, and national leaders. It was about inspired and selfless individuals like Patricia Stephens Due, who dedicate their entire lives to seeking racial justice. Freedom in the Family provides a rare glimpse into how one family helped make the Civil Rights Movement happen. It is also a living testament to the enduring personal and family consequences of the struggle for freedom and equality.”— Glenda Alice Rabby, author of The Pain and the Promise: The Struggle for Civil Rights in Tallahassee, Florida

Freedom in the Family is American history, written by those who lived it. No novel could be more tense, human and inspirational – and it’s all true, a testament to character and endurance written by women who took active roles in the dramatic events that forever changed the face of this nation. A must-read for every freedom-loving American.”— Edna Buchanan, author of The Corpse Had a Familiar Face and The Ice Maiden

“The Dues make it easy for the reader to transition from the past to the present, but hard to forget the drama therein and impossible to overlook the sweet sorrow of a mother and daughter having to walk some of the same testy ground on matters racial. There are many heroes and heroines of the civil rights movement. Tananarive’s mother is one; but so is Ms. Due for continuing on that path.” — Deborah Mathisauthor of Yet a Stranger: Why Black Americans Still Don’t Feel at Home 

ISBN: 9780345447340 | Published by One World

The summer of 1964 begins calmly enough. Cooper Grant, Jubal Harris, and Squirrel Kogan form a secret society called the Scorpions, hoping to event he score with the local bully, Reno McCarthy. But when civil rights workers come to their small Mississippi town and the Ku Klux Klan responds with intimidation and terrorism, the sultry days and nights are transformed into Freedom Summer.

As events unfold, the town begins to crackle with tension. A cross-burning on the lawn of Squirrel’s house scares his family out of town. Mr. Grant insists on Cooper attending KKK meetings with him. And at the Oak Grove Baptist Church, where Jubal and Cooper are members, Reverand Graham begins to issue warnings—premonitions of Klan attacks he says have come from the “angel Gabriel.” But then Gabriel mysteriously disappears.

Filled with suspense, The Return of Gabriel takes readers deep into a not-so-distant era. Confronted with decisions well beyond their years, the friends grapple with eternal issues of shifting loyalties and the nature of heroism. [Publisher’s description]

ISBN: 9780756934606 | Published by Perfection Learning

This Light of Ours: Activist Photographers of the Civil Rights Movement is a paradigm-shifting publication that presents the Civil Rights Movement through the work of nine activist photographers–men and women who chose to document the national struggle against segregation and other forms of race-based disenfranchisement from within the movement. Unlike images produced by photojournalists, who covered breaking news events, these photographers lived within the movement–primarily within the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) framework–and documented its activities by focusing on the student activists and local people who together made it happen.

The core of the book is a selection of 150 black-and-white photographs, representing the work of photographers Bob Adelman, George Ballis, Bob Fitch, Bob Fletcher, Matt Herron, David Prince, Herbert Randall, Maria Varela, and Tamio Wakayama. Images are grouped around four movement themes and convey SNCC’s organizing strategies, resolve in the face of violence, impact on local and national politics, and influence on the nation’s consciousness. The photographs and texts of This Light of Ours remind us that the movement was a battleground, that the battle was successfully fought by thousands of “ordinary” Americans among whom were the nation’s courageous youth, and that the movement’s moral vision and impact continue to shape our lives. [Publisher’s description by Charlie Cobb Jr.]

Edited by Leslie G. Kelen, executive director of the Center for Documentary Arts. Essays by: Julian Bond, chair of the NAACP from 1998 to 2010 and SNCC’s communications director; Matt Herron, activist photographer and owner and director of Take Stock, an organization licensing the use of movement images for scholars and the media; Clayborne Carson, professor of history and founding director of the Martin Luther King Jr., Research and Education Institute at Stanford University; Charles E. Cobb Jr., SNCC veteran and author of On the Road to Freedom: A Guided Tour of the Civil Rights Trail.

ISBN: 9781617031717 | Published by University Press of Mississippi/The Center for Documentary Arts

Faces of Freedom Summer is a rare and stunning collection of photographs by Herbert Randall. It is a key resource for teaching about Freedom Summer in 1964 Mississippi.

Randall’s stunning photographs bring Freedom Summer alive to a new generation of Americans. Tusa’s Introduction sheds new light on the Civil Rights movement in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. Together they have produced a work as inspirational as it is instructive. —John Dittmer

See more Randall photos at the University of Southern Mississippi Randall (Herbert) Freedom Summer Photographs Archives.

ISBN: 9780817310561 | Published by University of Alabama Press

I Will Never Forget (Book) | ZInn Education Project: Teaching People's History“I Never Will Forget”: Memories from Mississippi Freedom Summer is a collection of interviews conducted by the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program over seven years in Sunflower County, Mississippi. Selected in collaboration with the Sunflower County Civil Rights Organization, the stories provide a powerful first person introduction to the history of the Mississippi Civil Rights Movement.

The oral histories are organized in response to these topics:

– The Most Southern Place on Earth
– Poverty and the Plantation
– Designing a Freedom Summer
– The Sunflower County Movement
– Mass Meetings and Freedom Songs
– One Man, One Vote
– The Fight for Educational Equity
– The Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party
– The Deadly Seriousness of Mississippi
– “I Never Will Forget”

Published by the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program

Excerpt from Introduction

The introduction to the collection places Freedom Summer in the context of the long history of resistance in Mississippi. Here is an excerpt:

MFDP State Convention in Jackson, MS, 1964. (Wisconsin Historical Society.)

The Black Freedom Struggle in the Mississippi Delta is older than slavery, as epic as the Homeric Classics, and as enduring as the Mississippi River. Black Mississippians have created one of the most remarkable chronicles of resistance in United States history. Hitherto hidden from view to all but the most perceptive outsiders, the struggle was unveiled in the year of Freedom Summer as well as in the creation of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, the most important independent political party in American history.

To understand the origins of Freedom Summer it is necessary to go back over a century in time before 1964. There are far too many origin stories to tell in this brief space but here are a few. The role that African American soldiers from Mississippi played in the Civil War was decisive in winning the war and preserving the Union. Union Army soldiers of Lieb’s African Brigade saved General Ulysses S. Grant’s Vicksburg Campaign on June 7, 1863 by engaging in the longest bayonet engagement of the Civil War at the Battle of Milliken’s Bend. In defeating a Confederate force that had the advantage of numbers and better equipment, black soldiers vindicated Abraham Lincoln’s emancipation policy as a war measure and struck a fatal blow against the power of antebellum planters in Mississippi. Many of these troops had been slaves in the Delta region only weeks earlier. The record of black Mississipians in the struggle for freedom in the Civil War is a story that needs a fuller accounting.

Hiram Rhodes Revels

Black Union Army victories translated into political and economic advancement during Reconstruction. African Americans supported US Senators Blanche K. Bruce and Hiram Revels as well as John R. Lynch, the first black speaker of the Mississippi House of Representatives. At the same time however, gains in politics and black self-assertion were tenuous. Born in 1904, Tarboro, North Carolina physician Dr. Milton Quigless shared with me the ordeal of the Page family. The Pages owned a plantation near Port Gibson, Mississippi that drew the ire of whites jealous of an African American family in possession of 600 acres of land. “One particular Page, his name was Hamp Page. He’s a bad man. He says, “Don’t fool with me. I ain’t going to bother you, but if you fool with me, I’m going to get back at you.” And he practiced marksmanship. Threw a dime up; hit it with his pistol. You never see that dime any more. He was that damn good. So one day, when he was in town, Port Gibson, the Page plantation was just about eight or nine miles from Port Gibson. One of them [Pages] had a run in with a white man and the white man slapped him. So he beat the hell out of that white man.” After a heated gun battle, the Pages were driven out of Clairborne Parish and fled to St. Louis.

Like their counterparts across the South, white planters engaged in a wave of terror and legal chicanery to disenfranchise African Americans in order to institute a system of economic peonage and agricultural profits. The Vicksburg Massacre cost 300 African American lives in 1874, and the vaunted “Second Mississippi Plan” served as a model of voter suppression throughout the South and a guarantor of legal segregation for decades.

Black resistance persisted. While U.J.N. Blue of Meridian urged black Mississipians to leave for Africa in 1895 in order to escape white repression, Minnie Cox, the heroic black female postmaster of Indianola stood strong against white terrorists in 1903-1904 before finally ceding her position to save her family. During World War I, African Americans voted with their feet and left the state by the tens of thousands to seek better lives in the North in spite of draconian efforts by planters to force them to stay. “Because Rev. Thomas Collins read colored newspapers when ordered not to,” the Afro-American newspaper reported in 1919, “[A]nd because he persuaded his congregation not to attend an address by a speaker who was booked to advise colored people to stay in the South, Rev. Thomas Collins, of Yazoo, Mississippi narrowly escaped a severe beating from the Klan….On the way to the whipping post, Rev. Collins escaped and walked fifty miles to Jackson, Mississippi where he took the train for Philadelphia.” African Americans also organized against the threat of lynching. A “racial clash seems imminent late tonight” the Montgomery Advertiser reported on February, 1911 “as a result of a shotgun and pistol battel [sic] earlier in the evening between a posse of white men and a crowd of negroes. The shooting was an attempt on the part of the posse to disperse a gathering of Negroes in a house on the outskirts of Gunniston.” An anonymous letter writer warned the editor of the Belzoni newspaper in the spring of 1919 that whites would begin to suffer accordingly if they continued to engage in anti-black violence. In Vicksburg that same year, “Officials here have received many threats that the Negroes of this section intend to start riots here to kill white people in retaliation for the lynching and burning of a colored man here recently. Much uneasiness has been caused, the officials apprehend not trouble. No chances have been taken, however, for with big crowds here ,the police force has been doubled, deputies are on duty, no fire arms are being sold, the cross river saloons are closed and the jail has been converted into an arsenal.”

Hollis Watkins, Amzie Moore, E.W. Steptoe, Mississippi, 1963. Photo by Harvey Richards.

Thanks to the testimony of African Americans and the scholarship of historians including, Emilye CrosbyJohn Dittmer, Todd Moye, Charles Payne, Akinyele Umoja, and others, we now know that black Mississippians had been preparing the foundations of Freedom Summer for decades. Black World War II veterans, including Medgar Evers, attempted to vote shortly after the end of the war. Amzie Moore was leading voter registration campaigns in 1957 in Bolivar County. In 1961, the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) organized voter registration schools in McComb. That fall, Burgland High School students organized protests in solidarity with fellow student Brenda Travis, then 15-years-old, who had engaged in an act of resistance against segregation at the local Greyhound Bus Station lunch counter. The road to Freedom Summer was not a straight and easy path; it was more like water on the rock paid for by the blood sweat and tears of countless black Mississippians.

The stories that you will read in this book represent generations of struggle. These are excerpts of the 130+ oral histories that we have conducted over the past several years based on themes chosen in collaboration with Dr. Stacy White and the Sunflower County Civil Rights Organization. There are many tragedies and sorrow songs in these pages just as there are triumphs and narratives of people discussing the building of solidarity between people of different cultures, regions and racial identities. The record of striving for social justice in these pages is unparalleled in US history. However, we believe that in many ways that we have just begun to chronicle this amazing history. There are many more stories to tell, more archives to unearth, and more public discussions and organization workshops that need to take place in order to figure out “Where do we go from here?”

Paul Ortiz, May 20, 2014
Director, Samuel Proctor Oral History Program
Associate Professor of History, University of Florida